We all like to be entertained. An entire global industry has emerged to satisfy our longing to be amused, to somehow lift us out of the drudgery and doldrums of our ordinary lives. We take it in with reckless abandon, fully expecting to be transported to someplace better, someplace different. And just like any other idol, the gods of entertainment leave us feeling more unsatisfied, desperate, and empty than ever.
So, we’re not very good at being entertained. But how are we as the entertainer?
Entertaining guests is a cultural concept with various regional expressions, few of which translate into biblical hospitality. More recently across North America, “hospitality” is often reduced to a split check at a mutually suitable restaurant.
We may go so far as to invite someone over for dinner, but we tend to do so with those who look like us, talk like us, believe like us, and act like us. And before we even consider having these friends around, we’ll carefully engineer our homes and shape and polish our personas to communicate the best version of who we are—or at least the image that we hope to project.
But despite our cultural norms being increasingly bent toward a regaling spectacle, biblical hospitality and entertainment are not co-equal siblings. They’re really not even second cousins. In fact, they may be sourced from two opposing realms.
True hospitality is a cultural expression of other-oriented kingdom living. It transcends regional expectations of gourmet performance and focuses its energies on the blessing of honest and sincere relationships. It isn’t concerned with projecting an image of manicured lives devoid of stress, mess, and chaos. Instead, biblical hospitality flips the camera lens from a selfie to a wide-angle, pointed outward toward the lives of others, warmly inviting them into ours.
Here are four characteristics that distinguish biblical hospitality from entertainment:
Entertainment Impresses. Hospitality Blesses.
The first distinction between entertainment and hospitality is one of orientation. It answers the question: “Who is the center of attention?” If I am the center of attention, then my goal is to impress those who enter my orbit. I want them to leave spellbound by me—my wisdom, my ability to manage life, my winsomeness, the obedience of my children, or the cleanliness of my house.
Entertaining others puts me on center stage and my guests as a fawning audience. A win is measured by the degree to which my guests leave impressed or—better yet—reverential by the spectacle they have just observed.
If, on the other hand, my guests are the focus, then my goal is not to impress them, but to bless them. I want them to leave enriched and encouraged—better for having been in my life. I see my guests as I see myself, with pains and fears and disappointments, and hospitality becomes an opportunity to enter into those broken areas with the grace of Jesus Christ. Hospitality blesses.
Entertainment Stresses. Hospitality Savors.
The second distinction between entertainment and hospitality is one of aspiration: It answers the question: “What is my purpose?” The effort required to impress is immense because, let’s be honest, few of us are really that impressive. So, we fake it.
We stress about how to create the illusion of something we know we don’t actually possess. Entertaining others becomes an emotionally taxing façade that requires constant management so that no cracks can be seen.
Hospitality allows me to relax. I can enjoy being in the presence of another person created in the image of God. I give them attention, and I listen without the need to keep all the plates around me spinning. I simply savor the moment God has given me to enter the life of another and to bring them hope and help. The evening’s highlight is not a well-presented table, but the precious lives seated around that table. Hospitality savors.
Entertainment Babbles. Hospitality Listens.
The third distinction between entertainment and hospitality is one of communion. It answers the question: “How is intimacy being fostered?” Those who seek to entertain feel the pressure to fill the silence by incessantly babbling about themselves, their conquests, their children’s performance, or their remarkable experiences. Conversations rarely move below surface subjects but keep everything shallow and safe. After all, how entertaining are problems?
Those pursuing genuine hospitality are other-centered, demonstrating a willingness to put the other person in the spotlight. Biblical hospitality listens to stories without the need to one-up. It asks meaningful questions and allows the other the grace of being heard.
Hospitality tunes spiritual ears toward the joys, pain, or fears of those sharing a meal, and models an environment where relational intimacy moves easily from the superficial to spiritual. Hospitality listens.
Entertainment Excludes. Hospitality Honors.
The final distinction between entertainment and hospitality is one of inclusion. It answers the question: “Who, right now, is in need of Jesus’ love?” If I’m seeking to entertain, some people are simply not worth the effort. They are too “other” to pursue.
Entertainment takes the easiest road and animates me to look for those who require the least from me to love. I entertain people who are like me, those satiating my internal need to feel important, valued and validated.
Genuine, Jesus-like hospitality looks for those in need of love and honors them as esteemed guests (Luke 14:12-14). Because I’m freed from the assiduous bondage of seeking my own fulfillment, I’m able to bridge cultural lines of demarcation and pursue anyone, anywhere, who is in need of the love of God through Christ Jesus.
My home becomes a haven for guests who may not feel comfortable at my church—but who are becoming more open to the messenger and the Message of the church. Those far from God can find the fulfillment of their heart’s longing through the simple power of biblical hospitality. Hospitality honors.
What about you? Are you stuck on entertainment or zealous for genuine hospitality? You might think this to be some kind of superfluous add-on to the life of a kingdom-disciple, but a simple glimpse at the life of our Savior demonstrates that this was one of his primary means of ministry. All without a home of his own. Welcoming others. Eating with them. Listening to their story. Ministering to their pain. Holding out the invitation of the kingdom.
May we rediscover and follow his example.